Mansfield Town youngsters training with first team

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Mansfield Town youngsters Keaton Ward and Jordan Graham are now training with their first team squad which boss David Flitcroft said was a boost for the youngsters, the current first team and the club.

Flitcroft has pledged to do more to bring young players through as he sees them as the lifeblood of a club and the teen pair of midfielder Ward and striker Graham are the first two prospects to make an impact on him.

An experienced Stags reserves side won 5-2 in midweek against Rotherham, but Flitcroft said: “What was more important was that we brought off some of the experienced players and put on some of our younger players.

“That’s now given us the chance to have a look at a couple of the younger players in training with the first team.

“What you get with youth is that hunger and that desire to get in and around the squad and then to stay in the squad.

“That’s an exciting part of this job, supporting what John Dempster (academy manager) is doing underneath what the first team are doing. They do a fantastic job.

“We don’t have an academy for six, seven and eight-year-olds, so they do bring them in later.

“So they have not been schooled in what some academies do where they bring them up a little bit soft and weak – not game-ready or winning-ready.

“Demps and Coops (Richard Cooper) do a fantastic job getting these boys to a robust state. I have enjoyed the interaction with the young players and it gives us an opportunity to keep looking at them.

“From day one you want to find out what is happening down there. It’s really important from a sustainability point of view for a football club that you can bring youth through.”

Flitcroft can remember how training with a first team made him and his family feel when he was coming through.

“When I was a young player at Preston I can remember ringing my old man to tell him I was training with the first team and the excitement of that,” he smiled.

“He ended up bringing all the work lads from the building site to watch us and I got into trouble with the manager for ringing him up.

“That excitement to train with the first team has almost gone these days. But Keaton Ward has been with us and a part of what we’ve done and to see the excitement in his dad and that relationship is good.

“The players’ response to having Keaton train with us has been fantastic. He is a player – there is no doubt about that. He is a future asset for the football club.

“So it’s important, certainly as next season develops and the club drives forward with the chairman’s vision and strategy, that these communication lines are open.”

He added: “Demps and Coops come up on a Thursday and work with us and the first team. It’s massively important that is part of any football club, certainly in League Two and One.

“When the youngsters have joined in you have had an energy and an enthusiasm for football. It’s woken some of the first team players up as they can maybe see the competition coming through.”

Big striker Graham is the latest to get a taste of the first team, squad today and Flitcroft said: “Young Jordan is coming in to train today and gives us a different option up front.

“He is robust, 6ft 1ins and he’s got an unbelievable energy.

“Again he is someone that, by training with the first team, only improves him as the intensity with the first team is probably 30 to 40 per cent higher as you can imagine.

“It keeps the experienced players on their toes that youth won’t be overlooked at this football club while I’m manager.

“If they are good enough and show a real verve to compete in the first team squad I will certainly be running my eyes over them.

“They should be the lifeblood of any football club and understand what it means to play for Mansfield Town. “That’s what you get when you bring your youth through into a first team environment.”